The flights from Toronto-> Amsterdam -> Istanbul went well. I had planned to use the eight hour layover in Istanbul as an opportunity to check out the city. Turkey is a country that I have always dreamed of visiting. Unfortunately, that plan was quickly halted by a miserable visa officer with a chip on her shoulder for Canadians. After waiting patiently in line, I’d planned to ask for a short-term visa to leave the airport. I barely got the words out before I was being verbally assaulted by this woman for daring to ask if there was anything other than a six-month $60 USD visa available. Americans and Europeans pay $20 USD for the same visa! She wasn’t interested in my question and told me to get out of line. I was flabbergasted but too exhausted to put up a fight. I’ve heard conflicting reasons for the discrepency in visa costs. An American I met on the plane said that Canadians pay more because we recognize the Armenian genocide. I read online that we pay more because it’s expensive for Turks to get Canadian visas. Whatever the reason, I wasn’t prepared to pay $60 US for an eight hour excursion. Instead, I took a much needed nap in the airport lounge.
After my nap, I bumped into a human rights lawyer (who could have been a fashion model) from Copenhagen on his way to Dushanbe for a conference on fair judicial trials and pre-trial rights of the accused. I also met three young chaps from the UK on their way to Dushanbe to start a bike trip that would take them across Tajikistan. A challenging adventure considering that Tajikistan is 93% mountainous!
The flight from Istanbul to Dushanbe was fairly bumpy (luckily, Turkish Air has an open bar policy). The minute we boarded the plan a hundred pair of eyes were on us. And I have to admit, I was staring back. What an interesting group of people. The ethnic diversity of the people on the flight was incredible. I imagine we also looked quite the spectacle – exhausted, loaded down with cameras and backpacks and books – we also didn’t smell that great. I sat beside a really interesting gentleman from Bulgaria. He speaks five languages! Kazak, Bulgarian, Russian, Turkish and English. I admit I don’t have a strong grasp of Bulgarian history and was surprised to learn that his family has Turkish ancestry. Many Bulgarians do. He was born in Bulgaria, moved to Russia then Germany and now lives in Almaty, Kazakhstan and runs a small machinery company. He told me of his plans to live in Ethiopia one day and his love of music (he saw The Wailers perform in Germany). He taught me the Russian words for beer =piva and wine = vino – both of which we sampled on the way to Dushanbe. I don’t know much about Bulgarians but they seem to enjoy their liquor almost as much as the Russians. Ah the Russians –more on them to come!
We finally arrived in Dushanbe at 4 am on the 9th. We’d left at 6pm on the 7th. As soon as I walked off the plane I felt peaceful. The air was clean and warm but not humid. There was a lightness to it and I felt myself drifting into the pace of life that often characterizes developing countries. The driving conditions quickly brought me out of that reverie and reminded me of the other thing that often characterizes developing countries – creative driving. Apparently in Tajikistan green means Go Fast, amber means Go and red means Go Slow. I’m still trying to determine if these rules change depending on the time of day or the number of police around. Needless to say, at 5 am there were very few people out and about. But compared to Uganda this is a very orderly place. The buses have designated bus stops (but you can still flag them down) and there are pedestrian cross-walks!
My first impressions driving into the city from the airport: Clean, wide and well-paved streets lined with tall, beautiful trees. Fresh, fresh air. And Soviet style buildings – some are quite opulent.